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Ray & Munshi meet in Sadgati by APS Malhotra

A multifaceted genius of global acclaim is inspired by the work of a storyteller par excellence, and translates that vision on celluloid, with a stellar cast like Smita Patil and Om Puri,and gives us "Sadgati". It is one of the very few films in which Satyajit Ray ventured outside Bengali, his mother tongue, into Hindi. Based on Munshi Premchand’s heart wrenching short story, is a mirror to the society as it would have existed during Premchand’s lifetime (1880-1936).

Produced by Doordarshan and telecast on television, Sadgati, with a running time of less than an hour, keeps one riveted to the seat throughout (taut editing by Dulal Dutta is a vital ingredient in this), as one totally empathizes with the starkly disturbing trials and tribulations of Dukhi (Om Puri), whose only fault is to seek time from the village priest (Mohan Agashe- impeccable) to visit his house to solemnize the engagement of his adolescent daughter, Dhania (Richa Mishra).

There are some unparalleled scenes which Ray captures in his camera with rare sensitivity and pathos, bringing forth human emotions and behavior as only he can. The moment when Dukhi cuts grass in a field and carries the copious bundle on his head to take it as an offering for the priest and suffers a bout of momentary dizziness due to pangs of hunger is telling. Although he is stabilized by his concerned wife, Jhuria (Smita Patil), unfazed, he spurns her request to drink some brew, citing the overriding importance of his visit to the priest’s house.

But on seeing him, the self-obsessed Brahmin disdainfully orders him to clean the sprawling verandah of his house, perform some more onerous work, which, finally, culminates in the back breaking task of cutting an unwieldy log of wood into fine splinters under a merciless Sun. A fatigued and hungry Dukhi battles on. Meanwhile, the priest enjoys a hearty meal with his wife (his third- he boasts in front of some gullible folks who have come to hear his discourse on the meaning of death) in the cool climes of his house.

The unmitigated tragedy reflects in the smoldering eyes of the priest’s young son, who witnesses Dukhi’s death. The anguished youngster wakes up his father from a peaceful siesta, who, in turn, wakes up his wife. The unperturbed lady nonchalantly asks her husband not to lose his nerves and just inform Dukhi’s fate to inhabitants of the outcaste section of the village so that they can collect theircorpse for disposal.

However, in a rare act of defiance, they refuse to take away the corpse, which is blocking the way of the high castes to their source of drinking water. Meanwhile, a heavy downpour threatens to hasten the dead body’s decay. Herein unravels the moral dilemma for the beleaguered priest. In the shadows of an overcast dusk, he does the unthinkable, he pulls the lifeless body of Dukhi- an outcaste- and dumps it in the midst of rotting carcass and skeletons of dead animals a little distance away.

This is Dukhi’s Sadgati (deliverance).

Om Puri and Smita Patil get under the skin of Dukhi and Jhuria.

Puri- as he cuts grass sitting on his haunches, carries the bundle on his head, sweeps the floor in the priest’s house, attacks the wooden log with bitter vengeance- imbibes a body language and posture that are incredibly authentic. It shows why he is considered to be one of the finest actors to have graced the halo portals of Hindi cinema.

Smita Patil’s use of diction, the distinctive style in which she wraps the sari on her lithe frame, her smoldering eyes which speak a million words without saying anything and the spring in her walk are precious lessons in acting.

Perhaps, it was the master, Satyajit Ray (who composed the music, wrote the dialogues with Amrit Rai, and gave us the screenplay), who’s eye for detail and perfection motivated his team to come up with such outstanding and flawless performances. Art director Ashoke Bose makes the ambience of a decaying village come to life with amazing reality, which is dramatically captured on camera by Soumendu Roy- from wild grass growing in fields to unremitting downpour to clouds darkening the horizon like some morbid omens, to a herd of cows passing through a filthy, water-logged village street, Soumendu excels in recreating life on screen. Each department in the film contributes to make Sadgati a film to remember.

APS Malhotra is a bestselling author and cine enthusiast.

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